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Solar in the Sahara

14th Nov 2011

In what is considered to be the most ambitious solar power project in the world, a plant is to be built in Morocco's portion of the Sahara Desert.

Desertec will commence building its first power plant next year - a 500 megawatt facility spread over 12 square kilometres.

The total sum of the project is expected to be more than €2 billion (AU$2.67 billion as at November 14).

The first phase of the Moroccan complex will be a 150 megawatt facility - costing up to €600 million and taking between two and four years to build.

The project will see solar rays gathered from fields of mirrors in the desert powering turbines to electrify a new carbon-free network linking Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

"Depending on the technology, electricity production can start in 2014, or no later than 2016," Munich Re project lead Ernst Rauch said.

Reinsurance company Munich Re were one of the initiators of the project, which has been dubbed the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII).

DII is also supported by the Desertec Foundation - a global network of governments, scientists and economists that plan to discover how to effectively harness solar power in deserts.

Details on the exact location, technology and financing of the project are due to be released in the coming months, however shareholders already include German financial group Deutsche Bank, technology provider Siemens and electricity company Red Electrica.

According to research conducted for the initiative, deserts receive more solar energy in six hours than the world's population consumes in a year.

They believe that "energy is available in abundance and we have the technology to use it," and electricity can be supplied around the clock thanks to heat storage tanks and concentrated solar-thermal power plants.

DII's goal is to analyse how to develop clean energy in the North Africa deserts which can then be used to supply up to 15 per cent of Europe's power demand by 2050.

The foundation recognises that 90 percent of the world’s population lives within 3,000 km of deserts, meaning the technology used in Morocco would be viable for other countries where the centres of demand are within the reach of suitable deserts - including Australia, India and East Asia.

According to the Clean Energy Council, despite having 21 solar power plants in operation - with another 4 under construction - there are currently no truly large-scale stations in Australia.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent 

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